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Aug. 20, 2010

Sarah Waters
989-356-8805 ext. 29

Keeley Belva

New Sonar Gives NOAA Better View in Hunt
for Lake Huron's Lost Ships

A team of scientists looking for shipwrecks in Lake Huron around NOAA's Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is using new sonar technology able to "see" an area of the lake bottom the size of nearly 165 football fields.

The ATLAS (Autonomous Topographic Large Area Survey) sonar, originally developed by the Office of Naval Research for mine detection, can cover close to 10 times the area of traditional side scan sonars. Mounted on a free-swimming autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), the sonar will allow the team to search more area than ever before, while also creating topographic maps of the lake-bottom.

ATLAS was developed in 2008 by engineers at the Applied Research Lab at the University of Texas at Austin and debuted for maritime archaeologists at a NOAA and Office of Naval Research-sponsored AUVFest in 2008. The Thunder Bay survey is the first time the sonar will hunt for historic shipwrecks over a very broad area.

"Our immediate purpose is to work with NOAA to explore for new shipwrecks and prehistoric sites," said Charles Loeffler, senior engineering scientist with the University of Texas at Austin and one of the principle investigators. "However this technology has many applications that we're just beginning to consider."

"We hope that by using the ATLAS, we will continue to expand our understanding of the Thunder Bay area and provide more opportunities to explore and document one-of-a-kind historic sites, while also protecting them for future generations," said Russ Green, co-principle investigator and deputy superintendent at Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Bottom maps produced during the expedition will also provide scientists with new details on Lake Huron's bathymetry.

This project was funded through NOAA's Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, which supports projects that focus on exploring unknown ocean and Great Lake environments. Educators and members of the public can follow the expedition through daily logs, videos and images.

Encompassing 448 square miles in northern Lake Huron, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary was established in 2000 to protect one of the nation's most historically significant collections of shipwrecks. Thunder Bay is one of 14 marine protected areas managed by NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

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University of Texas Applied Research Lab
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